TOKYO (NewsNation Now) — When Japan won the bid to host the Olympic Games eight years ago, it billed Tokyo as a reliable and secure location, contrasting it with rivals struggling with finances and political instability.
But 100 days before the start of the Olympics, the organizers face a deluge of challenges and growing uncertainty as the pandemic rages around the world, affecting decisions on everything from athlete safety to spectator numbers to ticket sales.
Anastasija Zolotic, a taekwondo star representing Team USA, told NewsNation she is excited for the summer games despite pandemic restrictions. She says she’s been preparing for the Olympics since a child.
“I first realized I wanted to go to the Olympics at about eight years old. When I qualified for the Olympics is was so surreal,” Zolotic said. “Having the Olympic title under my name is amazing.”
Zolotic said her goal, in addition to taking home the gold, is to inspire young athletes.
“I believe my family is proud of me and I hope I make Team USA proud. I want to keep pushing the bar higher for everybody else and hopefully, younger athletes can watch me and want to be where I am,” Zolotic said.
The biggest challenge for organizers is the resurgent coronavirus, with countries like India and Brazil battling new variants and a fresh rise in cases. In Japan, vaccinations have been the slowest among developed economies, as Tokyo has lurched in and out of soft lockdowns. Infections are on the rise, and experts worry the city is on the cusp of an “explosive” jump in cases.
As a result, foreign spectators have been barred, parts of the torch relay have been re-routed, and the organizers have yet to decide what to do with the domestic audience. This has caused major challenges for sports venues and travel agencies, already grappling with restrictions to block the virus.
Nakamura’s team has created the first “playbook” with COVID-19 mitigation measures, including rules banning visits to shops and restaurants. If visiting athletes break protocol, it could result in their being barred from competing.
The next update to the rules is expected this month, he said.
Nakamura said that the summer heat poses another obstacle for Tokyo, and “there will be situations where it’s hard to balance both heat and coronavirus countermeasures,” such as when people in masks queue outside venues.
Tokyo government official Yoichiro Hara, who oversees preparations on public roads around the venues, added that “the symptoms of heat exhaustion can be similar to those of the coronavirus.”
Zolotic said her she and her team had the virus so safety is her top priority.
“We’ve are all good now. I just want to get the vaccine so when I go to Tokoyo there’s nothing that’s stopping me…I think that’s the biggest obstacle for every athlete now is trying to stay healthy until then,” Zolotic said.
Another challenge for organizers is the athletes’ village, expected to house 15,000 people from more than 200 countries to compete in 33 sports at 42 venues. The organizers have planned for 126,000 volunteers to shepherd athletes and spectators around the city.
“The medical system is already under strain. Our local health centre can’t possibly take care of those athletes in the village,” said Hideki Hayakawa, director of Olympic coordination unit at Tokyo’s Chuo ward, where the village is located.
Hayakawa said that and other issues are still being negotiated with the Tokyo government.
At a ceremony on Wednesday to mark 100 days to the Games, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said she was determined to make the event a success despite difficulties.
“The fight against an invisible enemy, the coronavirus, is behind the one-year postponement (of the Tokyo Olympics to 2021), and it has been a major ordeal for humanity,” Koike said. “I would like us to overcome the fight against the coronavirus and make the Games a memorable event.
Watch Anastasija Zolotic’s interview live in the player above.
Reuters contributed to this report. Reporting by Sakura Murakami, Elaine Lies and Kiyoshi Takenaka.